Man City charges: Hypocrisy from Pep Guardiola to call for quick end to FFP investigation
The absurdity of the Premier League’s conflicting role as competition organiser, regulator and prosecutor was laid bare on Sunday when chief executive Richard Masters crowned Manchester City champions at the Etihad Stadium.
As City celebrated the first trophy of what appears likely to be an historic treble this season, Masters handed out medals to the club his organisation alleges are serial cheats for breaching 115 of the Premier League’s financial regulations over a sustained period.
The contradictory situation further strengthens the case for an independent regulator for English football and, in the meantime, has cast a dark cloud over the top flight, which has little prospect of clearing soon.
Pep Guardiola, the City head coach, yesterday called for a speedy resolution to the case against his club, but acknowledged that it might take “two years” to conclude. Some legal experts think it could be up to double that.
There is bare-faced hypocrisy and certain irony to Guardiola’s pleas for a resolution “tomorrow”, given that some of the charges relate to City’s failure to co-operate with the four-year investigation by the Premier League, while the club is already demonstrating a willingness to drag out the process by quibbling over details such as the involvement Murray Rosen KC — the head of the Premier League’s independent judicial panel — because he is an Arsenal fan.
City have form in this area, having already been fined £8.7million by UEFA for failing to co-operate with a separate investigation by the European governing body. Guardiola’s frustration at the pace of the process is understandable, though, and there is good reason for all parties, not least the Premier League, to want a resolution to the case sooner rather than later.
While the charges hang over City and the English game, every one of their successes past and present will be accompanied by doubts and questions, smearing both the club and the competitions they have come to dominate.
Until City are either sanctioned or cleared — which, again, could take two or more seasons of football — English football is in danger of existing in an uncomfortable state of purgatory.
Guardiola, who is surely the biggest factor in the scale of City’s successes, has a contract until 2025 and, assuming he sees it out, the club could conceivably enjoy a spell of one-club dominance, comparable to the way Juventus and Bayern Munich have commanded their own domestic leagues, before they are declared cheats.
Forget an asterisk on this season’s triumphs, we might need to retrospectively asterisk an entire era of English football, which would be hugely damaging outcome for the Premier League, tainting its reputation.
The popularity of the Premier League so far appears undimmed by City’s dominance but, already, there is a sense of perceptions towards them gradually shifting.
Before City were hit with the charges in February, they were already viewed with apathy by rivals supporters (and even some of their own fans). As a state-backed club, with near-bottomless resources, there was an inevitability to City’s almost clinical success under Guardiola which prompted a shrug in neutrals. Insofar as they were liked by rival fans, it was as a vehicle of stopping other clubs from winning, as Manchester United, Everton and Tottenham fans can testify.
Now that widespread apathy is increasingly mingled with suspicion, and could quickly turn to resentment and anger if City continue to sweep the board of domestic and European honours while the case against them remains unresolved.
For all Guardiola’s innovative genius, which in different circumstances should prompt admiration, no one is sure how to feel about City and, far from a reason to admire the Premier League, they increasingly feel like a problem for the top flight which must be resolved soon.